Obama Explains the Financial and Moral Imperative for Health Care Reform

By Christine |

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President Obama last night did what should have been done a month ago: He presented a clear, passionate case for health care reform that re-charged supporters, and he reached out to groups wary of reform efforts.

“I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last,” said Obama. “Our collective failure to meet this challenge – year after year, decade after decade – has led us to a breaking point.”

Now the question is whether the momentum will last.

Dan Balz of the Washington Post writes:

Seeking to appease independents worried that his agenda threatens a fiscal disaster for the country, he promised not to sign a bill that would increase the deficit. Addressing seniors, he looked directly into the cameras and vowed, “I will protect Medicare.”

Obama almost certainly will get a boost in the polls from Wednesday’s speech, as President Bill Clinton did when he gave a similar address to Congress in the fall of 1993. Obama’s key to success is to use the space created by this moment to drive Congress, particularly his Democratic allies, toward consensus and action. The longer the debate continues, the more his gains from the speech will dissipate.

The Nation’s Katrina Vanden Heuvel writes, “The speech still had a bipartisan flavor, but with a progressive spine.”

She continues:

Obama did not fully satisfy. The insurance exchange idea confused more than it clarified in explaining the role of the public option. Why will it take four years? Essentially, it’s a compromise because Congress doesn’t have the guts to raise money to do it more quickly. There may be some benefits up front, but there are still more questions than answers. What is clear is that the fight must still be waged to push through a public option — already a part of four of the five bills in Congress — if we’re to get an essential component of genuine and effective healthcare reform. After all, the public option is already a pragmatic all-American compromise (choice and competition). Medicare for All — or single-payer-was never on the table.

Here’s the full text of the president’s speech to Congress, and here’s the text of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s letter of support, which the president said he received after Kennedy’s death.

“[Y]ou have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country,” wrote Kennedy. “And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will — yes, we will — fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.”

[Side note: Sen. Tom Harkin has been selected to take Kennedy's seat as chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Harkin is a supporter of the public option.]

The White House website has published the details of Obama’s plan, breaking down what will happen if you already have health care coverage and what will happen if you don’t.

Following the speech, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann asked Jonathan Cohn, the author of “Sick: The Untold Story of America’s Health Care Crisis,” what he thought of the plans on the table.

“Do I wish the plans were better? Do I wish they looked more like a single-payer plan? Absolutely,” said Cohn. “Do  I think that what we’re talking about now will make a dramatic difference in people’ s live? Absolutely.”

The NYT posted some early reactions from healthcare policy experts.

Bonus: When Obama said undocumented immigrants would not be covered, South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!,” prompting the head-turning shown at the top of this post. It was a moment that brought back all the heckling of the summer. But this time Democrats saw the opportunity and seized it.

Wilson is up for re-election this November, and ActBlue wasted no time in setting up a fundraising page for his opponent, Democrat Rob Miller, to defeat “the man who yelled ‘liar’ at Obama.” More than $45,000 has come in so far.

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11 Comments

  1. abby says:

    Obama’s explicit omission of abortion as a service to be covered in whatever form the insurance takes is a huge disappointment to many of us. Why must women continue to be the ones who suffer most when attempts to pacify opponents are attempted? Was this particular gesture really needed?

  2. Janis says:

    Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” comment will become, I hope, a watershed moment. It’s when the public began to see opposition to comprehensive healthcare reform as the ridiculous charade that it is. And we’ll look back at the crazies for what they were.

    But the audacity of that comment goes well beyond a partisan battle. I can’t help but thing the blatant disrespect we’ve seen for Obama has a racial foundation, even if the perpetuators wouldn’t even admit that to themselves.

    All of which makes me reflect on what would have happened if Hillary were in the White House right now. Would she have had more or less success marshalling healthcare reform? And would the racism have just been replaced by sexism?

  3. gbl says:

    Good idea. Otherwise, some of us might think you’re part of President Obama’s public relations team.

    Women are your mandate, not the Democrats or Obama.

    That this ‘working on’ post wasn’t your first says a lot about how far astray this blog has gone.

  4. Christine C. says:

    As Rachel noted, I’ve written about abortion and public funding before, with plenty of outrage. What he said during the speech was not a surprise if you’ve been following the health care reform debate — and we continue to find it unacceptable. I plan on writing a longer piece about public funding and will get to it as soon as I can.

    Your disappointment has been noted, and I appreciate your feedback. But please, give it a rest. There are plenty of other blogs where you can find the outrage you’re looking for, right now, if you choose.